Saturday Art: Influential Authors: Isaac Asimov
Back in July, I wrote about the first of the science-fiction “Big 3” (Arthur C. Clarke). As I noted then, I primarily chose to begin with Clarke due to his having authored a short story, The Nine Billion Names of God. I don’t really have any reason to go with Asimov next other than it seems like a good time to cover him.
While Clarke was influential for his contribution to movies as well as space exploration, Asimov has not had much of his work do well on screen. While the movie I, Robot Is “suggested” by Asimov’s stories, it takes an approach that is the opposite of the direction Asimov took in his stories and books. In the movie, I, Robot there is a robot uprising while in Asimov’s Robot worlds, he coined the “Three Laws of Robotiocs:”
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
He later added a Law Zero:
A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards. His books have been published in nine out of ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification.
Asimov is widely considered a master of hard science fiction and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, he was considered one of the “Big Three” science fiction writers during his lifetime. Asimov’s most famous work is the Foundation Series; his other major series are the Galactic Empire series and the Robot series. The Galactic Empire novels are explicitly set in earlier history of the same fictional universe as the Foundation Series. Later, beginning with Foundation’s Edge, he linked this distant future to the Robot and Spacer stories, creating a unified “future history” for his stories much like those pioneered by Robert A. Heinlein and previously produced by Cordwainer Smith and Poul Anderson. He wrote hundreds of short stories, including the social science fiction “Nightfall”, which in 1964 was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America the best short science fiction story of all time. Asimov wrote the Lucky Starr series of juvenile science-fiction novels using the pen name Paul French.
I am most familiar with three of Asimov’s sci-fi series; the aforementioned Robots, The Galactic Empire, and Foundation. I especially enjoyed how in his later Foundation books, he tied everything together.
Paul Krugman has stated that the original Foundation series and Asimov’s concept of psychohistory that inspired him to become an economist.
Asimov was a prolific writer and ranged far beyond science-fiction:
Professor Asimov is generally considered the most prolific writer of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards. He has works published in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System (lacking only an entry in the 100s category of Philosophy).
Think of that for a moment. And even if he did not publish officially in the Dewey Decimal category of “philosophy,” can anyone doubt that he had a philosophical impact through his writings?
When he died in New York City on April 6, 1992, his brother Stanley reported heart and kidney failure as the cause of death. He was survived by his second wife, Janet, and his children from his first marriage. Ten years after his death, Janet Asimov’s edition of Asimov’s autobiography, It’s Been a Good Life, revealed that the myocardial and renal complications were the result of an infection by HIV, which he had contracted from a blood transfusion received during his bypass operation. Janet Asimov wrote in the epilogue of It’s Been a Good Life that Asimov’s doctors advised him against going public, warning that the anti-AIDS prejudice would likely extend to his family members. Asimov’s family considered disclosing his condition just after his death, but the controversy that erupted the same year when Arthur Ashe announced his own HIV infection (also contracted from a blood transfusion during heart surgery) convinced them otherwise. Ten years later, after most of Asimov’s doctors had died, Janet and Robyn Asimov agreed that the HIV story should be made public.[41
Picture from telli gacitua licensed under Creative Commons